MacPhail opts not to return to Orioles

After more than a week of speculation since the end of the season, Andy MacPhail is indeed stepping down as the Orioles' president of baseball operations after four-plus years at the helm, according to a club source.

MacPhail is leaving the Orioles to tend to family and personal obligations, the source said.

UPDATE: The Orioles on Saturday announced MacPhail's departure in a news release. "On behalf of the Orioles organization, I thank Andy for his service to the club over the last four and a half seasons," Orioles owner Peter Angelos said in a statement. "Andy's knowledge and experience have helped lay the groundwork for our future success. I hold Andy in the highest regard and thank him for his commitment and dedication to the Orioles.

"And on a personal level, Andy is a dear friend. He will be greatly missed, and I wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors."

Who will replace MacPhail is unknown, but the belief is that manager Buck Showalter, who many saw as the leading candidate, will stay in the dugout. Angelos and Showalter met Friday, but neither would comment on what was discussed.

UPDATE: A club source told The Baltimore Sun on Saturday that Showalter will remain Orioles manager in 2012.

MacPhail met with Angelos on Sept. 29, roughly 13 hours after the Orioles ended their 14th straight losing season with a ninth-inning, two-out, 4-3 comeback that essentially knocked divisional foe the Boston Red Sox from the playoffs.

It might have been the biggest win of the MacPhail era, which began June 20, 2007, days after he had a clandestine meeting with Angelos and was persuaded to take a post similar to the one that his Hall of Fame father, Lee, held with the Orioles from 1958 to 1965.

It was widely believed MacPhail had told Angelos earlier this year that he would be stepping down, but after last week's meeting, an announcement was delayed while Angelos attempted to work out a situation in which MacPhail would stay in the same role.

On Friday, MacPhail decided to end the delay and walk away from the post.

MacPhail, 58, brought steady professionalism and an impressive lineage to the Orioles, but he did little to improve their fate in the American League East. The club went 307-432 (.415 winning percentage) and finished last in each of his four full seasons and fourth in 2007.

When he took the position, MacPhail made a point that he would be the person who ultimately would be responsible for the club's successes or failures.

"I think it's important to have one voice," MacPhail said in his introductory news conference. "You're looking for all the help you can get, all the research you can get. But at the end of the day, it has to be clear who is responsible, who's accountable, for baseball operations."

There was a question as to whether MacPhail would be able to co-exist with Angelos, who in the past had a reputation of meddling with baseball operations. But the men worked together closely during the 2002 and 2006 labor negotiations and had already established a relationship before MacPhail took the Orioles' reins.

"I wouldn't be here unless I was absolutely confident that I was free to run this franchise … the way it has to be run," MacPhail said when he was hired.

During his time in Baltimore, MacPhail consistently stated that he never felt like he had a lack of authority in baseball decisions, though he continually kept Angelos in the loop. In fact, there was at least one instance when Angelos pushed MacPhail to spend more money and go outside his comfort zone.

Last offseason, MacPhail and the representatives for likely Hall of Fame designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero had drawn a monetary line in the sand and were seemingly at a standstill when Angelos told MacPhail to spend what it would take to get the free agent. Guerrero signed a one-year, $8 million deal, which invigorated a fan base still floating from a 34-23 start to Showalter's tenure.

However, those guarded expectations came crashing down quickly, when the Orioles couldn't maintain a 6-1 start and plummeted to the AL East basement. MacPhail became the target of acrimonious fans because the organization's cadre of young pitching arms did not advance at the big league level and MacPhail's mantra for success was to "buy the bats and grow the arms."

Relying on young pitching is the riskiest endeavor in the sport, and when talented but green pitchers Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and Brad Bergesen were felled by injury or ineffectiveness, it torpedoed MacPhail's grand hope that 2011 would be the Orioles' first step toward respectability.

The bought bats didn't help much either. The conservative MacPhail never dove into the free-agent pool, preferring to agree to low-risk, high-reward contracts that never exceeded two years. The most lucrative free-agent contract he agreed to as Orioles president was the two-year, $12 million deal with reliever Michael Gonzalez before the 2010 season.

It was one of several free-agent signings that missed the mark, including experiments such as first baseman Garrett Atkins and pitcher Justin Duchscherer. His best signings were veteran infielder Ty Wigginton, who made the 2010 All-Star team, and pitcher Koji Uehara, the club's first Japanese-born player.

MacPhail made a point of stressing the organization's need to better its woeful international effort, and initially that seemed to occur with the signing of Uehara, a new academy in the Dominican Republic and the creation of a director of international scouting position. But that priority seemed to wane, with no lasting presence in Asia or Venezuela, no additional hiring of full-time scouts, few significant bonuses given to international amateurs and the elimination of one Dominican Summer League team.

It's not as if MacPhail hasn't experienced some success, though. One of his goals was to make sure the Orioles' spring training facilities improved and that both the minor league and major league camps were close -- that came to fruition in 2010, and the Orioles now have an impressive spring complex in Sarasota, Fla.

While with the Orioles, MacPhail made his mark on the major league roster with deft trades. He sent aging veteran Miguel Tejada to the Houston Astros for five players, including 2010 Most Valuable Oriole Luke Scott, and sent left-hander Erik Bedard to the Seattle Mariners for five players, including 2011 Most Valuable Oriole Adam Jones.

Last offseason, he traded four relievers in two separate deals for infielders J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds, who became the first Orioles duo since 1996 to each hit 30 or more homers in a season.

MacPhail will now walk away after four-plus years with his stamp on the organization -- but his legacy will be left up to interpretation, since the on-field results lagged behind the rest of the American League East.

Who's next?

Here's a list of possible candidates to replace Andy MacPhail as the Orioles' front office chief:

Gerry Hunsicker, senior vice president,Tampa Bay Rays

Dan Jennings, assistant general manager,Florida Marlins

Wayne Krivsky, former special assistant to GM,New York Mets

Tony LaCava, assistant GM,Toronto Blue Jays

Damon Oppenheimer, scouting director,New York Yankees

Scott Proefrock, assistant GM,Philadelphia Phillies

J.P. Ricciardi, special assistant to GM, Mets

Scott Servais, senior director of player development,Texas Rangers

Buck Showalter, manager, Orioles*

* Expected to remain in Orioles' dugout